Vol. 80, No. 11, November 2007
On Wisconsin: The Fastest Jurors in Nation
A study by the National Center for State Courts has reported that Wisconsin jurors are the fastest deliberators in the nation. In Wisconsin, a jury takes an average of one hour to reach a verdict in felony trials. Connecticut jurors, on the long end of the range, take an average of 7.75 hours. What is it with Wisconsin jurors? Attention deficit disorder? Really stupid criminals? Great prosecutors? Lame defense lawyers?
First thought. After the closing arguments, jurors, like any committee, need time to organize. First, they need to go to the bathroom. Then they need to pick a foreperson. Finally, they need to consider the jury instructions and the evidence.
This usually takes a few hours or minutes - although it may be late on a Friday or the case may be open and shut. I once tried a civil case in which the jury came back in five minutes against my client. (I had nothing - nothing - to do with this result.) On the other hand, the case involved sleeping around in Little Rock. Circumstances matter.
One theory is that Wisconsin's prosecutors are so good, so persuasive, that jurors don't need much time to consider the evidence. Wisconsin prosecutors, by and large, are able. Maybe they are better than we give them credit for. My prosecutor friend David is so good that he's given the power by the district attorney to allow victims to confront perpetrators before charges are filed. Many perpetrators agree to make amends - and the system simply facilitates a restoration of sorts.
On the other hand, let's admit that most criminal defendants (but certainly not all) are guilty as heck. This is a credit to the system. Who wants to live in a system in which a large number of innocent people are charged?
Here's another thought. Wisconsin criminal defendants are so stupid, or impulsive, that no reasonable jury could find them not guilty. I've not observed this. Wrongdoers here seem, on average, about as good or bad at perpetrating crimes successfully as anywhere else. I'd say most skew toward being "unsuccessful" criminals - but again, this is a credit to the moral fiber of our state.
Our defense attorneys may not be the best. Maybe that's the cause. But my observation is that many, even most, are good. Capable and hard-working attorneys staff the public defender offices. In Wisconsin, it seems, we've always had a respectable percentage of acquittals.
The lawyers here don't demonize each other. We don't have that luxury. We, or our kids, are always running into each other in social settings.
Is it the judges? Our judges, like elsewhere, exhibit a range of ability. Parties or attorneys may complain about a judge but they seldom complain about not being able to get a fair hearing. It's all relative. Bad baseball umpires typically don't favor one team over the other. Bad is not the same as unfair.
Maybe there is a simple answer. Maybe Wisconsin prosecutors only bring good cases. Maybe they drop the questionable cases. Maybe truth in sentencing gives incentive for all but the innocent, or the desperate, to plead.
Maybe, in Wisconsin, we don't have that many close cases. If so, Wisconsin may be doing something right. Take note, America. In Wisconsin, juror deliberations are short. We have better things to do with our time.
Douglas H. Frazer, Brookfield